I might be worse off trying to split step.

The whole split step thing seems stupid and counterproductive.

I think the timing has to be perfect, otherwise, it's actually worse and makes me even later.
I might actually be faster just standing flat footed, and then reacting as soon as I can see the ball coming at me.

Instead, I am noticing that the server has already contacted the ball, and I am in the air still.
I land on my feet when the ball passes the net. So, I actually have less reaction time.

For return of serve, what is the EXACT timing required?
When do you jump? When do you land?
Even this can't be answered since serve speed varies.

I am thinking you should split step during the toss, and land when he contacts?
 

LeeD

Bionic Poster
Depends on your fitness level and the level of play.
At 3.5, it might make no difference.
At 5.0, it's pretty much needed by most at that level, although a few slower moving guys might get away with a ready position.
At 7.0, it's needed.
 

tlm

G.O.A.T.
It can be hard to time split step correctly. I've found that if you can just stay lively on your feet and rock back and forth staying on your toes is good enough. But standing flat footed is never any good, you can never make up the time you lose going from standing flat footed.
 

GuyClinch

Legend
I think its like being tall on the serve. If you are very tall you can get away with crap form - and you don't need to do everything correctly to still hit an okay serve. Likewise guys who are very quick can 'recover' from a slow start and still get to balls.

But if you are bigger slower guy - I find its very useful to split step. Those one or two steps that you can quickly make are often the difference between getting to ball and being caught flat footed and unable to move.
 

WisconsinPlayer

Professional
Right now split stepping is very hard for me due to short/tight achilles heel and plantar fascia muscles. Im in therapy trying to stretch them out, but when my feet can handle it I make sure to split step as I can really notice a difference when completed right
 
The whole split step thing seems stupid and counterproductive.
Is it the SS itself that's stupid and counterproductive or merely the execution? I'm thinking it's the latter. As an example, you may have a terrible drop shot but that doesn't mean the DS is stupid and counterproductive.


I think the timing has to be perfect, otherwise, it's actually worse and makes me even later.
I might actually be faster just standing flat footed, and then reacting as soon as I can see the ball coming at me.

Instead, I am noticing that the server has already contacted the ball, and I am in the air still.
I land on my feet when the ball passes the net. So, I actually have less reaction time.
It does not have to be perfect. Very few things have to be perfect [if any]. The better your timing, the more you'll get out of it.

However, I agree with your 2nd statement if you are late: in that case,you could be in mid-air as the ball is already going by you.

Too early is better than no SS which is better than too late. So your goal should be to avoid being late.

For return of serve, what is the EXACT timing required?
When do you jump? When do you land?
Even this can't be answered since serve speed varies.

I am thinking you should split step during the toss, and land when he contacts?
Your many posts indicate to me that you crave formulas where entering all of the relevant information will yield a precise answer. Tennis, like a lot of things in life, is not that precise. If adapting to imprecision is not your cup of tea, maybe you're worse off trying to play tennis.

You should be landing just after contact. There's no sense in landing before contact because the SS is meant to ready you for a reaction and if contact hasn't been made yet, there's nothing to react to. Whether you take a big hop like Murray or little shuffle steps like Nadal is up to you; I don't think there is a formula. Experiment and see what works best for you.

If you're having problems, at first just make sure you're not late. Then work on refining your timing, taking into account factors like serve speed/spin, how close to the server you are, etc. Like any practiced skill, you will get better at it. Your brain will recognize the patterns without you having to know the exact timing, just like anyone can catch a ball without having to solve a differential calculus equation.
 
Right now split stepping is very hard for me due to short/tight achilles heel and plantar fascia muscles. Im in therapy trying to stretch them out, but when my feet can handle it I make sure to split step as I can really notice a difference when completed right
Keep that Achilles loose: tearing one can mean a year of post-surgery recovery, from what I've heard from friends.
 

WisconsinPlayer

Professional
Keep that Achilles loose: tearing one can mean a year of post-surgery recovery, from what I've heard from friends.
Exactly :eek: Imagine how terrible that would be. Last year I had to deal with plantar fasciitis during the tennis season (switched to doubles and still got to state :D) so Im just praying I can resolve these problems in therapy by the time this years season comes around
 
You're supposed to turn your hips while in the air to the direction you're going to move to. Then land on the opposite leg from that direction. E.g. assuming you're a righty, land on your left leg if you're going to move to your forehand side.
 

onehandbh

Legend
TimeToPlaySets, try just standing flat-footed instead with your feet close together. You will conserve a lot of energy.

When your opponent hits a good serve you can't reach, remember to say, "nice serve!"
 

esgee48

Legend
I find myself not SS. What I do try to do is slow down and get off the heels of my feet as my opponent prepares to strike the ball. If my feet are under my hips, then I can react to the ball quickly and efficiently. If you're on your heels, forgetaboutit. It's not a SS type jump. But you do need to be able to shift weight, which can be done if you're on your toes. Of course, I am assuming you're also in some sort of ready position.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Right now split stepping is very hard for me due to short/tight achilles heel and plantar fascia muscles. Im in therapy trying to stretch them out, but when my feet can handle it I make sure to split step as I can really notice a difference when completed right
You can execute a modified split step. I have, at times. referred to it as a geriatric split step (for older players who might be better off not jumping/hopping). This is a split step that I learned from a US national team badminton coach. Badminton players usually execute a SS that is a bit subtler (lesser hop height) than a typical tennis SS.

However, some advanced badminton players might not hop at all. Instead, they suddenly lower their center of gravity (bend their knees) as contact is being made by the opponent. This is the geriatric SS I mentioned above. It is executed at contact or immediately prior to contact by the opponent. So the timing of this type of SS is just a hair later than a conventional (hopping) SS -- since you do not spend time in the air to get the extra bounce in your movement.

Even tho' you don't get that extra bounce from the hop, you can still derive advantage from the SSC (stretch shortening cycle) by properly timing your sudden downward move.

You're supposed to turn your hips while in the air to the direction you're going to move to. Then land on the opposite leg from that direction. E.g. assuming you're a righty, land on your left leg if you're going to move to your forehand side.
Not necessarily. It depends on the exact timing on your split step. Some/many elite players split step a split-second later than non-elites. They will often land 1-footed and have already started to turn in the appropriate direction.

But if you execute your SS just a scosh (tad) earlier, then you would land with a neutral 2-footed landing. This is the SS that I first teach to students. (For more advanced students, I will also demo the "late" 1-footed landing). With the neutral 2-footed landing, you don't want to land so early that you have to wait a half second or so before being able to pick up the direction that you need to move. You want to time your split step such that you are shifting your weight (nearly) immediately after your neutral landing to move in the appropriate direction.
 
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SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
@TimeToPlaySets
Stupid and counterproductive sounds like the thinking of a perpetual 3.0/3.5 player. But I suspect that your statement was meant to be provocative. Some 3.5 players execute a proper SS but many do not. If you can figure out the proper timing of the SS, it should make you a better/quicker player and may be one of the crucial elements that get you to the next level.

Timing need not be necessarily exact but is should be fairly close to optimal. I mentioned some variation in timing in my previous post. Basically, when your opponent if executing the forward swing on their groundstroke, you want to start your SS hop. Do not start the hop prior to the forward phase of their stroke and do not wait until you hear the sound of their contact. The former will probably be too early and the latter may be too late. If you are too early, it is not the worst thing that you could do but you will lose some of the advantage (bounce) of the SSC (refer to prev post).

You do not want to initiate your SS on the server's toss. That is way too early. Wait for their racket drop and the start of their upward swing to properly sync yourself to their serve. Yuo want to be up in the air just as they make contact and land very shortly after the ball had left their racket.
 
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FiReFTW

Legend
OP do you even play any sports? Lol flat footed better for fast reactions and accelerations in different directions, you have got to be joking..
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
I am thinking you should split step during the toss, and land when he contacts?
Nope. Take a close look at all the best returners: Agassi, Murray, Djokovic. They are at the top of their SS hop at contact. The land shortly after contact -- perhaps as the ball is crossing the net. Most of us do not have Novak's extreme flexibility so his ultra-wide stance and technique might be difficult to emulate. Murray or Agassi would make a better role model for the return footwork for most of us.

The technique that I learned 25+ yrs ago is the one that Murray uses today. He takes a large step forward with one leg as the server tosses the ball. He then initiates his SS hop as the server's racket starts to move upward from the drop position so that he is at the top of the hop at contact. The rhythm of the forward step, then split step can be adjusted to the rhythm of the server (dependent on the height of their toss and the timing of their motion). For a low toss and quick serve timing, your footwork would be a short quick forward step and then a split step. For a higher toss (and a longer serve timing), you would probably take a longer, somewhat slower first step followed by your split step.

Some players always take that 1st forward step with the same, preferred leg. This works for many players. However, Murray sometimes takes the first step with his left leg and, at other times, takes it with his right leg. From what I've observed, Andy usually (but not quite always) takes the forward step with his inside foot (the foot closest to the middle of the court). For the ad side, that 1st step is with the left foot and, on the deuce side, the 1st step is with the right foot. (Most of the time).



And here is an Agassi variation according to Salzenstein:

 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
http://www.sports-split-step.com

definitely felt stupid when i was first learning it,... because my timing was offf and so it didn't help me.

another point, it doesn't have to be so high, it can be subtle (the geriatric split step - lol). i think i'm somewhere in the middle.... i think the higher you hop the harder it is to time to split

ultimately whether you split or not, you go through the same cycle of watch, decide, loading your muscle, then moving... "splitting" is nothing more than timing the load of your muscles as close to the decision as possible so it's 1 step instead of 2.

also, like someone else said, at 3.0 or 3.5, splitting can mess with your timing, because you end up perpetually early (ie 3.5s hit slow)... but if you hit with someone who hits hard, you'll need the split.

you'll also find that splitting all the time is gets tiring, so you'll need to improve your conditioning. example, in dubs i'm splitting on every shot. so when i hear from folks that they don't get exercise from dubs, i know it's because they are standing like a tree on most points, not splitting, not readjusting on every shot, etc,...,

regarding "worse off"... think of learning the split like learning the serve grip... in the short term, the frying pan serve is way more effective, consistent, etc,... switching to a proper continental/ebh grip messes up your game (can no longer get the serve in),... but learning the new grip is what will allow you to compete beyond 3.0-3.5
 

Lance L

Semi-Pro
The whole split step thing seems stupid and counterproductive.

I think the timing has to be perfect, otherwise, it's actually worse and makes me even later.
I might actually be faster just standing flat footed, and then reacting as soon as I can see the ball coming at me.

Instead, I am noticing that the server has already contacted the ball, and I am in the air still.
I land on my feet when the ball passes the net. So, I actually have less reaction time.

For return of serve, what is the EXACT timing required?
When do you jump? When do you land?
Even this can't be answered since serve speed varies.

I am thinking you should split step during the toss, and land when he contacts?
Certainly a spit step can help, when added to a great, strong foundation of athletic court movement.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
^^ Great video, NY. Love that view of the whole softball team executing a split step at the same time. You should see the same thing happening in tennis doubles -- both partners execute a SS as the opponent is hitting the ball.

Low hop or high hop on the SS? There is a trade off here. Many might find a low or moderate hop a little bit easier to time. However, a bit higher hop could put more bounce in your footwork and get you moving a little bit quicker if you get the timing right. Roger Federer and Steffi Graf often get some pretty "good air" and a lot of bounce on their split steps.


https://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/vertical-motion.531687/#post-9277313
 

Curious

Legend
The whole split step thing seems stupid and counterproductive.

I think the timing has to be perfect, otherwise, it's actually worse and makes me even later.
I might actually be faster just standing flat footed, and then reacting as soon as I can see the ball coming at me.

Instead, I am noticing that the server has already contacted the ball, and I am in the air still.
I land on my feet when the ball passes the net. So, I actually have less reaction time.

For return of serve, what is the EXACT timing required?
When do you jump? When do you land?
Even this can't be answered since serve speed varies.

I am thinking you should split step during the toss, and land when he contacts?
You are the one who said he had never heard of pronation in serve for decades playing tennis, right? I like the way you express your dissatisfaction and grumpiness.:)
 

Curious

Legend
You're supposed to turn your hips while in the air to the direction you're going to move to. Then land on the opposite leg from that direction. E.g. assuming you're a righty, land on your left leg if you're going to move to your forehand side.
C'mon man, we are already struggling with the takeoff phase and you're talking about the specifics of landing.:)
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
^^ Great video, NY. Love that view of the whole softball team executing a split step at the same time. You should see the same thing happening in tennis doubles -- both partners execute a SS as the opponent is hitting the ball.

Low hop or high hop on the SS? There is a trade off here. Many might find a low or moderate hop a little bit easier to time. However, a bit higher hop could put more bounce in your footwork and get you moving a little bit quicker if you get the timing right. Roger Federer and Steffi Graf often get some pretty "good air" and a lot of bounce on their split steps.


https://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/index.php?threads/vertical-motion.531687/#post-9277313
imo the advantage of a high split, is that it gives you time to do a "gravity step"... ie if you're moving to the left, you only touch down with your right, which for me is hard to time consistently on something fast like a serve or at net for a reflex volley...

if you load with both feet, to me it's a "failed gravity step"... still better that no split (but could have been better)

regarding "gravity step"... i definitely read about it first in the context of tennis (i recall a picture of edberg in the article/book), but really solidified my understanding when studying "pose running" (https://posemethod.com) when training for my marathon (ie you don't "push off" you lift up a foot, and "fall forward")
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
You're supposed to turn your hips while in the air to the direction you're going to move to. Then land on the opposite leg from that direction. E.g. assuming you're a righty, land on your left leg if you're going to move to your forehand side.
+1
"gravity step"
ie. to move left you want to lift you left leg and fall (let gravity assist) to the left
 

SinjinCooper

Hall of Fame
And here is an Agassi variation according to Salzenstein:

I have never, in my life, seen this one. Awesome. Thanks for posting. It took about five seconds of living room shadow returns for me to see how that footwork pays off both directions.

Old dogs can still learn new tricks, I guess.
 

Curious

Legend
I have never, in my life, seen this one. Awesome. Thanks for posting. It took about five seconds of living room shadow returns for me to see how that footwork pays off both directions.

Old dogs can still learn new tricks, I guess.
I dont understand how this tip could help when you are returning an out wide serve.
 

SinjinCooper

Hall of Fame
I dont understand how this tip could help when you are returning an out wide serve.
Seems to me the thinking is that you're moving your center of gravity closer to the side where you have less reach (across the body to the BH side, in this case), but are simultaneously loading the left leg.

If the ball does come down the T, you let momentum carry you over that leg and proceed, but if it goes out wide to the FH, the pre-loaded leg becomes a springboard to get you wide in a hurry. That, plus extra reach for the FH side, should have you good to go. It's less of a static balance of forces, ready to move either direction in the same fashion, and more of a dynamic balance, ready to move either direction in subtly different ways.

Obviously, I haven't put it into practice yet, but it makes sense to me. At the very least, I like it as a concept. Will have to compare and contrast results with my current, more Murray-esque (except far worse) footwork.
 

MisterP

Hall of Fame
The whole split step thing seems stupid and counterproductive.

I think the timing has to be perfect, otherwise, it's actually worse and makes me even later.
I might actually be faster just standing flat footed, and then reacting as soon as I can see the ball coming at me.

Instead, I am noticing that the server has already contacted the ball, and I am in the air still.
I land on my feet when the ball passes the net. So, I actually have less reaction time.

For return of serve, what is the EXACT timing required?
When do you jump? When do you land?
Even this can't be answered since serve speed varies.

I am thinking you should split step during the toss, and land when he contacts?
You're right, actually. A late split is worse than no split. The timing is about when you land, and not when you initiate the jump.

It actually is as simple as it sounds, though. You should land early enough that you are able to make a move to either side before the ball reaches you. Get a buddy and practice it. Experiment with different timing (when you land) and expect that the timing changes based on each server you face as well as the kind of serve they hit you.
 
Based on Atari's response, I will start the split step when the server's racket starts to move towards the ball.
Then I will be in the air at contact. Then I will land when the ball passes over the net.
Wait, that is what I am already doing, I think.

Maybe my lateness is about the racket takeback. I have serious work to do this year with my take back since I only take my arm back, and do not turn my shoulders.
Maybe that is the problem on ROS, and not the split step.
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
I'm kind of in the Salzenstein camp. A straight up and down split step can be counterproductive if it doesn't get your momentum moving somewhere other than vertical.
I keep myself in a strong wide based ready stance and try to hop sideways a bit to my BH or FH side based on where I read the serve coming. It's very geriatric, but at 3.5 works well. For a slow fat guy I don't get aced much.
 
You can execute a modified split step. I have, at times. referred to it as a geriatric split step (for older players who might be better off not jumping/hopping). This is a split step that I learned from a US national team badminton coach. Badminton players usually execute a SS that is a bit subtler (lesser hop height) than a typical tennis SS.

However, some advanced badminton players might not hop at all. Instead, they suddenly lower their center of gravity (bend their knees) as contact is being made by the opponent. This is the geriatric SS I mentioned above. It is executed at contact or immediately prior to contact by the opponent. So the timing of this type of SS is just a hair later than a conventional (hopping) SS -- since you do not spend time in the air to get the extra bounce in your movement.
This is actually what volleyball defenders [diggers] do just prior to the other team spiking the ball: lower their CoG, which allows them maximum ability to move in any direction. Since you don't have the luxury of one bounce, readiness is even more important than in tennis, IMO.

Badminton is one fast-moving game! 10 minutes and I'm soaked with sweat.
 

meltphace 6

Hall of Fame
Based on Atari's response, I will start the split step when the server's racket starts to move towards the ball.
Then I will be in the air at contact. Then I will land when the ball passes over the net.
Wait, that is what I am already doing, I think.
I think if you wait to land until the ball has already passed the net, it will be too late [on a fast serve]. I think you want to land as close in time after contact as possible to give yourself the most reaction time before you make contact.
 

SinjinCooper

Hall of Fame
I think if you wait to land until the ball has already passed the net, it will be too late [on a fast serve]. I think you want to land as close in time after contact as possible to give yourself the most reaction time before you make contact.
The whole point of a split step is that when you land, your whole lower body compresses, and then as long as you're relaxed, it'll begin to uncompress -- uncoil back up toward standing.

You harness that uncoiling so that you can use it to spring more efficiently in the direction of the incoming ball. For that to work, you've got to time it such that your uncoiling is timed as closely as possible with the instant you're first able to recognize which direction the serve is coming.

In a perfect world, that moment will be as close to the moment of contact as possible, since that gives you the most possible time to react. But some returners may be better off delaying it slightly, if they can't get a read on direction right away.

If you're not ready to spring as that uncoiling happens, the split does you little good.
 
The whole point of a split step is that when you land, your whole lower body compresses, and then as long as you're relaxed, it'll begin to uncompress -- uncoil back up toward standing.

You harness that uncoiling so that you can use it to spring more efficiently in the direction of the incoming ball. For that to work, you've got to time it such that your uncoiling is timed as closely as possible with the instant you're first able to recognize which direction the serve is coming.

In a perfect world, that moment will be as close to the moment of contact as possible, since that gives you the most possible time to react. But some returners may be better off delaying it slightly, if they can't get a read on direction right away.

If you're not ready to spring as that uncoiling happens, the split does you little good.
I agree that it's a balancing act and we live in an imperfect world. However, @TimeToPlaySets indicated that he might have a problem with a late SS and the longer you delay your SS after contact, the more likely it will be too late. And a late SS can be worse than none at all because you may be in mid-air as the ball travels past you [an extreme example, for sure]. So my advice was to avoid being late for starters and to hone the timing from there.
 

meltphace 6

Hall of Fame
But some returners may be better off delaying it slightly, if they can't get a read on direction right away.

If you're not ready to spring as that uncoiling happens, the split does you little good.
That's exactly the problem. Once the ball left the opponents racquet these players lack the visual cue to time their split step.
 

SinjinCooper

Hall of Fame
That's exactly the problem. Once the ball left the opponents racquet these players lack the visual cue to time their split step.
Theoretically, timing a split with a REALLY late read should still make them better off than getting that really late read flat footed.

Point is only that there's no advantage to split stepping such that you come out of it before you're ready to react.
 

meltphace 6

Hall of Fame
Another thing that's, IMO, not mentioned often enough is how the split step affects how a player perceives the rhythm of a tennis rally:

Code:
while (ballIsInPlay)
{
    hitBall();
    move(defensive/recover to bisection);
    splitStep(balance);
    move(offensive/move to hitting position);
}
 
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SinjinCooper

Hall of Fame
Another thing that's, IMO, not mention often enough is how the split step affects how the player perceives the rhythm of a tennis rally:

Code:
while (ballIsInPlay)
{
    hitBall();
    move(defensive/recover to bisection);
    splitStep(balance);
    move(offensive/move to hitting position);
}
Computer is where I play Candy Crush.
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Based on Atari's response, I will start the split step when the server's racket starts to move towards the ball.
Then I will be in the air at contact. Then I will land when the ball passes over the net.
Wait, that is what I am already doing, I think.

Maybe my lateness is about the racket takeback. I have serious work to do this year with my take back since I only take my arm back, and do not turn my shoulders.
Maybe that is the problem on ROS, and not the split step.
You really need to learn/develop a proper unit turn and execute it shortly after your SS landing.

As the ball is crossing the net, you should already have a pretty good idea approx where the ball will bounce (and, to a lesser extent, how it will bounce). Make up your mind if you are going to hit a BH or a FH as the ball approaches/crosses the net and initiate the unit turn well before the ball bounces.
 
D

Deleted member 23235

Guest
Another thing that's, IMO, not mentioned often enough is how the split step affects how a player perceives the rhythm of a tennis rally:

Code:
while (ballIsInPlay)
{
    hitBall();
    move(defensive/recover to bisection);
    splitStep(balance);
    move(offensive/move to hitting position);
}
lol, geek. i like it.


Both videos show that landing occurs AFTER opponent contact.
great vids. i always thought i timed my split (land/load) with contact... but after seeing the vid, it definitely must be after - albeit split seconds after (which makes sense, because i need enough information first, before deciding which way to move after the split).
that said, i probably subconsciously adjust my split best on a bunch of factors...
* length of (opponent's) prep
* my time to prep
* speed of ball
* etc...
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
@WisconsinPlayer @nytennisaddict
You can execute a modified split step. I have, at times. referred to it as a geriatric split step (for older players who might be better off not jumping/hopping). This is a split step that I learned from a US national team badminton coach. Badminton players usually execute a SS that is a bit subtler (lesser hop height) than a typical tennis SS.

However, some advanced badminton players might not hop at all. Instead, they suddenly lower their center of gravity (bend their knees) as contact is being made by the opponent. This is the geriatric SS I mentioned above. It is executed at contact or immediately prior to contact by the opponent. So the timing of this type of SS is just a hair later than a conventional (hopping) SS -- since you do not spend time in the air to get the extra bounce in your movement.

Even tho' you don't get that extra bounce from the hop, you can still derive advantage from the SSC (stretch shortening cycle) by properly timing your sudden downward move...
Giving it more thought, it might be best for most players who execute a no-hop "geriatric" split step to wait until the server's contact occurs (or just after the contact occurs). You can cue off the sound of the impact. But, I believe, it is still important to try to pick it up a visual cue for your SS. That way you are focused on the hitting arm/shoulder and the swingpath of the racket at contact and prior to contact. In addition to providing a cue for timing your "sinking" SS action, it should provide other important info as to the amount of spin to be imparted, type of serve to be expected and, possibly, serve direction.
 
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WisconsinPlayer

Professional
@WisconsinPlayer @nytennisaddict


Giving it more thought, it might be best for most players who execute a no-hop "geriatric" split step to wait until the server's contact occurs (or just after the contact occurs). You can cue off the sound of the impact. But, I believe, it is still important to try to pick it up a visual cue for your SS. That way you are focused on the hitting arm/shoulder and the swingpath of the racket at contact and prior to contact. In addition to providing a cue for timing your "sinking" SS action, it should provide other important info as to the amount of spin to be imparted, type of serve to be expected and, possibly, serve direction.
Until my feet are in better shape I have been doing something similar to what you describe. I use a wide receiving stance like djokovic and just make sure Im off my heels while doing very small jumps before contact. This seems to give me the same general effect
 

SystemicAnomaly

Talk Tennis Guru
Until my feet are in better shape I have been doing something similar to what you describe. I use a wide receiving stance like djokovic and just make sure Im off my heels while doing very small jumps before contact. This seems to give me the same general effect
This sounds like it might be a bit more like the Fatso split step from Mauro Marcos:

http://fatsotennis.com/uncategorized/never-before-seen-tennis-technique-fatso-splitstep/

EDIT: Heels off the ground is a good idea
 
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